Summary:

In a world stuffed with big social networks, can a social app specifically for art lovers make an impact? ArtSpotter founder Raphaëlle Heaf thinks so — and she’s relaunching her iPhone-based service to try and prove a point.

raphaelleheaf

London is among the most important cities in the art world — but it’s also becoming the home for an increasing number of art-related startups. One of them, ArtSpotter, is relaunching on Monday with a new app that it hopes can give it a serious boost with art fans.

The iPhone app, released on Tuesday, looks good, but the improvements aren’t just about getting a new lick of paint. Founder and CEO Raphaëlle Heaf told me that the new ArtSpotter was adding a range of extra services that moved it on significantly from the previous version.

That early app let people tag art they’d found and liked, which in turn allowed other people to search for interesting art near them. Now, however, Artspotter is really trying to help people engage with art by helping people recommend, document and comment on the exhibitions, venues and street work that they find.

To do that it draws on some very familiar social features, like activity streams, but also seems like a much smarter and more engaging app than the company’s first, tentative effort.

“This is our first proper app,” Heaf, who has worked in and around the art world for the past 15 years, told me. “The first was really an aggregator for event listings that anyone could add to, but this new one is more about activity — it’s not about discovering what is around you, although you can do that too, but making it more social.”

But Heaf insisted that a big difference between her service and others, broader services was that it was focused on connecting the physical world with the digital one. ArtSpotter is not about sharing pictures of art, she said; it’s about going to experience the art in a gallery, museum, or on a wall.

“Our vision is about getting more people to see more art in real life. It’s not about sharing photos of art, it’s about a platform where all the dynamics of the art world are connected and can be shared,” she told me. “At the moment people share their photos of street art on Instagram and people say ‘wow, that’s cool’ — but they’re not geo-located, so you can’t find where they are, you don’t know who the artist is and so on.”

In a way, you can imagine ArtSpotter as a Path for a very specific niche. Or perhaps it’s not that specific really: last Spencer Hyman, the founder of another London art startup, Artfinder, told me that the art market was valued at $50 billion annually.

But that’s where competition comes in. Artfinder, too, is about discovering works — as are several other outfits currently doing the rounds. What makes ArtSpotter different?

Heaf says it’s not focused on the commercial end of the market: getting people to find and purchase artworks. The longer-term play for her service is to do something that’s parallel: to get data about what people like and want with art, what they’re doing right now and then sell that data on to venues and art sellers.

Right now she says the focus is on getting users through the door before putting the next part of the plan into action.

“A lot of the other apps are very commerce-based; it’s discovery so you can buy a piece. We work in a complementary fashion — you’re out and about and looking at pieces, and we can recommend things to look at. Our focus isn’t on revenue, but eventually we want to be the Google Analytics for venues. We can do real-time customer awareness analytics… this is just our first step.”

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